Two years ago, Jo Forister retired from her part-time job at Family Drug in Brownstown after 17 years.
Friday marked her final day working her other job, in the Jackson County Planning and Zoning Department office, so she’s now officially retired altogether.
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She was the secretary in that office for 26 years and eight months.
“It has been a very pleasant experience, especially with meeting so many different people and living in a small community, and how blessed I am to live here in town,” Forister said. “Both of my jobs were just right here.”
The 1962 Seymour High School graduate moved to Jasper for a few years before coming back to Brownstown in 1981 to help her parents run the family business, Hillcrest Motel.
In the fall of 1989, county building commissioner Irene McKain needed a secretary. She and Forister were friends, so she asked her about working in the office.
It started out as a part-time position, working Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“At the time, I needed a job,” Forister said. “When I worked for her part time, I really didn’t get too involved. It was more or less answering the phone.”
Shortly after Forister started, though, it switched to five days a week.
Her job then consisted of filling out building permits, taking minutes of plan commission and board of zoning appeals meetings, answering the phone and helping customers who called or came into the office.
Along the way, she also had to learn how to navigate and make entries on the GIS mapping program, which is used by all county departments and is accessible to the public.
“Getting accustomed to that, I didn’t find it very difficult,” she said. “It has been a lifesaver.”
The biggest adjustment the office had to make was when the 911 emergency system went into effect. That involved assigning addresses to every residence in the county and putting them into a computer system, which helped dispatchers determine where calls came from in the event of an emergency.
“That was a nightmare,” Forister said. “People didn’t understand the changes. We barely understood them ourselves, and we still find mistakes and stuff in the addressing system.”
Since Conner Barnette took over as building commissioner earlier this year, he has made some changes to lessen the workload for him and Forister.
For one, he developed a new website for the department. A lot of the information people used to call about is available there, including the zoning map, ordinances and forms for building permits, variances and special exceptions.
“Pretty much now, if you go to our website, all of those questions and things are answered for you,” Forister said. “We just don’t get near the phone calls in the office now.”
Also, Barnette now records the plan commission and board of zoning appeals meetings and stores them on a flash drive, so the secretary doesn’t have to attend the meetings.
“Conner has just updated a lot of things. He’s bringing everything up-to-date,” Forister said. “I would say his part in this is going to be big changes for the better, I’m sure.”
The office started out in the basement of the Jackson County Courthouse. When that building was renovated, the planning and zoning office moved into the solid waste management building for a year. It then was moved to two places inside the courthouse annex before a standalone building at 202 E. Walnut St. became available in October 2013.
That allowed the building commissioner and secretary to have their own offices, rather than sitting side by side in a cramped space.
“It was just perfect with the big meeting room,” Forister said of the current office. “Unless there’s something controversial (on the agenda of the county meetings), this is perfect for what we need.”
As far as her decision to retire, Forister said she just felt it was the right time.
“I have family that lives in Florida, so that’s where I eventually hope to go and maybe find something part time down there,” she said. “I just don’t think I would be happy sitting at home doing nothing.”
She said she also likes working in flowers, reading and shopping, so she will have more time for those hobbies.
Rebekah Cutter was hired to take Forister’s place. Forister was able to train her for a week.
“I knew Conner, and it just presented itself, and I thought that it would be something that I could do,” Cutter said of why she applied for the job.
Forister said she used to work with Cutter at Family Drug.
“Conner has done so much of what I would do, so what I’m teaching (Cutter) is very little,” Forister said. “I’m happy for her.”
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Name: Jo Forister
Education: Seymour High School (1962)
Occupation: Recently retired after working in the Jackson County Planning and Zoning Department office for 26 years and eight months
Family: Daughters, Terri Forister and Tammy Forister; son, the late Jim Forister; grandchildren, Taylor, Cheyenne and Nick; great-grandchild, Kaiden